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Advancing the Ball: Race, Reformation, and the Quest for Equal Coaching Opportunity in the NFL (Law and Current Events Masters)by N. Jeremi Duru
Synopses & Reviews
Professional football is, without question, the most popular sport in America, and by a substantial margin. Yet few scholars who look at the role of race and sports in America focus on the NFL. Historically, racial relations in other sports — particularly baseball, boxing, and basketball — have attracted more attention from writers and scholars, who have tended to regard football as dA(c)classA(c). Ironically, however, professional football has been a trendsetter in racial relations despite its brutalism and its associations with political conservatism and militarism. The first African Americans to play in the NFL joined the league in 1946, one year before Jackie Robinson joined the Dodgers. It had the first black union president (Gene Upshaw). And as Jeremi Duru argues in Advancing the Ball, it was the first league to systematically challenge America's most durable racial prejudice - the notion that African Americans are intellectually inferior to whites. By the mid-1990s, there had been only a couple of black coaches in the NFL, despite the fact that two thirds of the league's players were black. Taking on a hidebound and conservative group of owners, a network of aspiring black coaches eventually joined forces with the Steelers' owner, Dan Rooney, and their efforts produced the Rooney Rule. The rule required every team to interview at least one black candidate when hiring a new head coach. Technically, football is the most complicated of all sports, and prejudice regarding aptitude did not wash away immediately. Indeed, many of the septuagenarian plutocrats who owned teams resisted the rule. A sea change did eventually occur, though, and the last few years have seen an influx of black coaches. The fact that two of the last Super Bowl-winning coaches (and three of the last six Super Bowl participants) have been African-American has proven the correctness of the rule.
Jeremi Duru, a law professor at Temple, worked with the network of black coaches in the 1990s and early 2000s, and will bring an insider's eye to his larger story about race and sports in contemporary American society.
Following the NFL's desegregation in 1946, opportunities became increasingly plentiful for African American players--but not African American coaches. Although Major League Baseball and the NBA made progress in this regard over the years, the NFL's head coaches were almost exclusively white up until the mid-1990s. Advancing the Ball chronicles the campaign of former Cleveland Browns offensive lineman John Wooten to right this wrong and undo decades of discriminatory head coach hiring practices--an initiative that finally bore fruit when he joined forces with attorneys Cyrus Mehri and Johnnie Cochran. Together with a few allies, the triumvirate galvanized the NFL's African American assistant coaches to stand together for equal opportunity and convinced the league to enact the "Rooney Rule," which stipulates that every team must interview at least one minority candidate when searching for a new head coach. In doing so, they spurred a movement that would substantially impact the NFL and, potentially, the nation. Featuring an impassioned foreword by Coach Tony Dungy, Advancing the Ball offers an eye-opening, first-hand look at how a few committed individuals initiated a sea change in America's most popular sport and added an extraordinary new chapter to the civil rights story.
About the Author
N. Jeremi Duru is Associate Professor of Law at Temple University. He has worked directly with the network of African American coaches in the NFL and brings an insider's perspective to his larger story about race and sports in contemporary American society.
Table of Contents
1. Baltimore Love
2. An Idea's Origin
3. Superior Performance, Inferior Opportunities
4. Enter the Godfather
5. The Rooney Rule
6. The Coaching Carousel
7. Millen, Mooch, and the Great Detroit Hiring Debate
8. Birth of an Alliance
9. A Season of Dreams
10. Digging New Wells
11. Road to Super Bowl
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